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Chinese military drills test Taiwan’s defense readiness, analysts say


In this photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense, Taiwan guided missile destroyer Ma Kong DDG1805, left, monitors Chinese guided missile destroyer Xi'an DDG15, right, near Taiwan on May 23, 2024.
In this photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense, Taiwan guided missile destroyer Ma Kong DDG1805, left, monitors Chinese guided missile destroyer Xi'an DDG15, right, near Taiwan on May 23, 2024.

China wrapped up a two-day, large-scale military exercise Friday after its forces deployed 111 aircraft and 46 naval vessels to areas around Taiwan.

Taiwan’s National Defense Ministry said 82 Chinese military aircraft crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait and some got very close to the 24-nautical-mile line that Taiwan uses to define its contiguous zone.

The military drills, branded as a “punishment” for Taiwan’s new president, Lai Ching-te, who China views as separatist, focused on conducting joint sea-air combat-readiness patrol, joint seizure of comprehensive battlefield control and joint precision strikes on key targets involving China’s army, navy, air force and rocket force.

Beijing said the drills were “completely legitimate and necessary,” while Taipei criticized the Chinese military for damaging peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait with its “irrational provocation.”

This is the third time since August 2022 that China has conducted a large-scale military exercise encircling Taiwan. Some analysts say this exercise was “significantly closer” to Taiwan than similar drills in 2022 and 2023.

“This proximity further whittles away at Taiwan’s room to maneuver and further increases the chances of collision or miscommunication which could lead to escalation,” J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based security analyst, told VOA in a written response.

Other experts say the Chinese military simulated some scenarios that would be involved in a potential invasion of Taiwan during the exercise.

“They focused on joint blockade operation and joint precision strikes on key targets across Taiwan,” said Chieh Chung, a military researcher at Taiwan's National Policy Foundation.

In addition to targeting Taiwan’s main island, Chung told VOA, the exercise was the first time the Chinese military deployed coast guard vessels to conduct joint patrols in restricted waters near Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu.

“Since Taiwanese military stations have some anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on the outlying island of Dongyin, the Chinese military would try to simulate how to seize the island before they launch an invasion of Taiwan’s main island,” he said, noting that Beijing could be signaling its intent to build up its military’s capabilities through this exercise.

Some analysts say Chinese coast guard vessels would play an important role in helping the Chinese military to impose control over Taiwan’s outlying islands.

“The coast guard vessels could help impose blockades over Kinmen and Matsu,” said Su Tzu-yun, a military analyst at the Taipei-based Institute for National Defense and Security Research.

Vulnerability in Taiwan’s defense

Apart from simulating attacks on Taiwan’s outlying islands, the Chinese military also conducted drills on the eastern side of Taiwan. Chung said Beijing’s goal in conducting drills east of Taiwan is to simulate an attack on naval and air bases in eastern Taiwan, traditionally used by Taiwan’s naval and air forces to preserve their combat capabilities.

“If China would be able to deploy a naval fleet to eastern Taiwan and carry out direct attacks on Taiwan’s naval and air forces, it would seriously damage Taiwan’s defense capabilities,” he told VOA.

Chung said Taiwan currently lacks effective ways to defend against a potential Chinese attack on key military assets in eastern Taiwan.

“The new government under Lai Ching-te needs to convince the United States to provide Taiwan with longer-range, air-launched anti-ship missiles to allow Taiwan to hit Chinese naval vessels in the event of a Chinese attack on eastern Taiwan,” he said.

Since the military exercise allows the Chinese military to familiarize themselves with the environment around Taiwan while testing Taiwanese forces’ response time, Cole said Taipei must now be prepared for various contingencies, including a potential Chinese blockade.

“Taiwan’s armed forces must assess how best to secure their lines of communication between Taiwan proper and its outlying islands while interdicting the Taiwan Strait with a mix of traditional and asymmetrical platforms,” he told VOA.

Psychological warfare

While Beijing’s latest military drills around Taiwan pose some new challenges to the island’s defense capabilities, some analysts say the Chinese military is also trying to weaken the confidence of the Taiwanese military and the public by using aggressive propaganda campaigns.

“Beijing is trying to affect the Taiwanese military and public’s morale by releasing videos and images of Chinese military activities around Taiwan, but Taiwanese authorities neutralized the effect of China’s psychological warfare by releasing videos of the Taiwanese military tracking Chinese military activities around the island,” Taiwanese analyst Su told VOA.

Some Taiwanese people think their government should show Beijing that it has the capabilities to counter Chinese military aggression, while others think authorities in Taipei should prioritize efforts to maintain peace.

“It’s time to show Beijing that we are not a paper tiger,” Marcos Cheng, a 29-year-old office worker, told VOA by phone.

On Friday, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian warned that whenever “Taiwan independence forces” provoke China, Beijing will take one step further to counter such attempts, emphasizing that Chinese military pressure on Taiwan will not stop until reunification is achieved.

Chung told VOA that Beijing would likely launch similar military drills around Taiwan in the coming months as it tries to maintain pressure on Taiwan’s new government.

“Since Beijing’s latest military exercise didn’t involve live-fire drills, they may turn it into part of their regular practice around Taiwan,” he said.